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Frontiers of Biogeography

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A comprehensive monograph on the ecology and distribution of the House bunting (Emberiza sahari) in Algeria


The House bunting (Emberiza sahari Levaillant, 1850) is a human commensal passerine bird species, characteristic of urban environments in the Sahara Desert of Algeria. Its distribution in Algeria, with particular emphasis in Ghardaïa, was investigated using two sampling methods: progressive frequency sampling and point abundance index, with ecological field data collected during 2017-2019. Morphological biometric measurements were carried out on free-living individuals for each sex. Reproduction phenology and success were surveyed through the breeding season (February‒September) during 2018‒2019. Trophic behavior was studied by direct observations of foraging individuals. Results showed that the species range in Algeria is larger than shown by data from the literature, with expansion northwards within the country. At a finer scale, in Saharan cities, the species prefers old and traditional urban environments, where its densities are higher than within modern urban habitats. At a national scale, we found that the species range is not restricted to desert climates, but extends towards the north of Algeria, including the semi-arid steppe rangelands of the Hauts-Plateaux region. Range changes are attributed to changes in building practices and climate change. Adult females were heavier and slightly larger than males, whose head plumage had different coloration patterns compared to females. Nests weighed 82.03 ± 20.77 g (mean ± standard deviation) and consisted of 72% plant materials, 19% animal-origin materials and 9% inert constituents. The nest cups were oval in form, top-lined and stuffed with diverse material. House buntings nest under the roofs of uninhabited houses, in stairwells, traditional water wells, and holes within walls. Nesting height averaged 2.14 ± 0.8 m. In Ghardaia, courtship and pair formation began mid-February. Females can raise up to three successive broods (March-September), with 31‒34 days/brood including 14‒15 days for egg incubation. Clutch size is typically 2‒3 eggs. The diet of the House bunting included seeds of annual grasses dominated by Poaceae species. The species also fed on anthropogenic food remains, and sometimes on insects, especially during the breeding period.

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